Tuesday, May 23, 2006

THE STORY OF JESUS

THE STORY OF JESUS
The story was originally told by his first followers, then by others. Jesus lived in Palestine. He was baptized and became a rabbi. We don’t have sources that come from the time of Jesus himself, and this leads to a plurality of Jesuses. Billions of people pass through this world as he might have, unknown, unheralded, poor, vilified, without leaving a trace, but in those days, a decree went out from Cesar Augustus; that all the world was to be taxed. Augustus called himself the Son of God. Rome’s empire had spread across the Mediterranean to Spain, Egypt, Turkey, Greece and Palestine. Jesus was born in Judea, ruled by the puppet Herod, who built up Jerusalem as a showplace, rather like Athens or Rome itself. Along the coast he constructed an aqueduct to the city of Caesarea, which shows the intersection of Roman rule in Jesus's land. Caesarea was a Roman city that itself colonized Judea.
4 BC Mary gave birth to her firstborn. Herod died in 4 B.C.E. Jesus was most likely to be born and grow up at the sea of Galilee near Nazareth. Galilee was a hotbed of radicalism. less than 4 miles from the capital Psephurus, with all the trappings of rich Roman life. Jesus was very close to a sophisticated Roman environment. He saw exploitation first hand in an urban setting. As an artisan he was in construction work, and probably worked as such in Psephurus. It would have been necessary for him to know Greek. Psephurus for all that was a Jewish city. Jesus is completely embedded in the Judaism of his time. He worshiped in synagogues, preached from Jewish texts, celebrated Jewish holidays.
There is, however, only one Temple, the Temple at Jerusalem. One Temple for the One God. Jews would put aside part of their income so they could make the pilgrimage. Judaism was diverse at this period. There was a lot of dissent around Judaism, and religion generally. Some wanted to destroy the Roman empire or destroy Jews who cooperated with the Romans.
The Essenes abandoned Jerusalem in protest against the worldly way the Temple was being run. The Essenes lived in an isolated, self-contained monastery. They were an apocalyptic sect-"the true form of the religion", according to them. They had a revelation that God was going to wipe out the evil and bring goodness and justice to everyone else. The Messiah would come to restore the Temple, and one who would come to lead the war. There would be a major battle between people and between cosmic forces, with the Essenes being victorious. The end of the world refers to the end of the Roman empire, a return to a golden age of statehood and independence. The radical message was echoed by Mary’s cousin, John the Baptist. "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near". Jesus was John's disciple, and submitted to the ancient Jewish rites of baptism. Jesus took John's ideas further. Instead of God bringing righteousness, He was calling upon the people themselves to make the changes.
28 Then Jesus embarked on his ministry in the Galilee. He avoided the big towns. He labored among the poor, the peasants and villagers. He became famous as healer. (curandero). There were many prophets, miracle workers and magicians. The Romans made fun of him as an ignorant peasant, a democratic persona in the face of Roman snobbery and elitism. Contradictorily, Jesus was a social reformer and an apocalyptic firebrand at the same time. (political and religious). Inevitably, he found himself in conflict with the Roman authorities. The kingdom may have been the Roman kingdom, but it was not the kingdom of God. Many people went with Jesus into the desert to gain enlightenment. The Romans sent a police action and killed everybody they could find. Everything that Jesus said and did was politically dangerous. It was just a matter of time before he was killed.
30 He went to Jerusalem, which was ruled directly by Rome, under Pontius Pilate. "Pontius Pilatus Prefectus Judah". Pilate has a reputation for being cruel and of suppressing all dissent. During the Passover holiday, Jewish pilgrims came in from everywhere. The city was crowded to overflowing. Roman Soldiers were stationed in a fortress next to the Temple. Jesus entered the Temple and threw out the money changers, calling them traitors and collaborators. (This is variously reported as happening at the beginning of his career, two years before he died, or at the end, one week before he died). The high priest of the Temple was Khaiphus. This action was interpreted as political subversion. There was a riot. There was cooperation between the colonized priests and the Romans. To avoid a bloodbath, Jesus was delivered into Roman hands. At this time unrest and uprisings were very common. Jesus’s sedition was to be punished by crucifixion by the Romans in Golgotha. Thousands had been crucified there in the first 25 years of the century. Death was slow, painful and public. The victim suffocated. It was the end of the week of Passover, a time of passionate religious fervor and commitment. While Jesus was on the cross there was a 3-hour eclipse. In the gospels the crucifixion was told in anguished cantorial psalms. "Rexus Nazareno, Rex Jeodon", Jesus was a victim of the Pax Romana.
When Herod Antipas divorced his Nabataean wife to marry Herodias, the daughter of Antipas’ brother’s wife, John the Baptist denounced the marriage as incestuous. Enraged, Herodias has him beheaded.
41 There is violence in Alexandria between the Greek and Jewish inhabitants under emperor Claudius.
51 By the shores of the Aegean Sea, a visitor, Paul of Tarsus (in Silesia) arrived in Corinth. He went to the agora, center of economic and political life, in the shadow of the temple of Apollo. 90% of the religions of the Mediterranean at the time were pagan. There were many gods for different functions and occasions. Paul’s message of a single Jewish Messiah must have seemed outlandish to the cosmopolitan Greeks. Paul started the writings of the New Testament by writing letters to the newly formed congregations throughout the area. He emphasized the death and resurrection of Jesus, and how one must prepare for the end by living a good life. However, people were disillusioned that nothing had yet happened. Many were afraid to support an executed criminal. So, writes Paul, an angel came and resurrected Him to show that he really was the Messiah. This became proof that Christianity was viable. 50 days after Jesus’s death (Pentecost) miracles began to happen.. Convinced, proselytizers went from town to town, converting the people. There were settled Christian groups in the villages as well. There were people giving up wife and family to teach the gospel. It became a "Jesus movement". Rather than the organized Christianity that would come later, these were small Jewish enclaves trying to keep the memory alive. Paul writes, "Go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, not among the Gentiles or the Samaritans, and as you go proclaim the Kingdom of Heaven". The roads were crowded with merchants, philosophers, missionaries, prostitutes, beggars and all manner of travelers. The network of roads that was established for the Roman army finally became the network that spread Christianity by these far-flung Diaspora Jews living outside Israel, in Babylon, along the Mediterranean and in Asia Minor. Paul traveled to Antioch, the capital of Roman Syria, one of the largest Jewish communities, where he could feel at home and do his work. Before the 4th Century the synagogue was a community center, and it included gentiles. There was nothing in Pagan rites equivalent with the early Christian commonality of experience, and gentiles were drawn to the simple human contact, and thus were converted. Paul sees the integration of the gentiles as a way of strengthening and broadening the movement, promising salvation, regeneration, eternal life, baptism, illumination. Christians met in each other’s homes. Common meals memorialized the Last Supper. Gentiles had to become Jews first, to make the distinction between clean and unclean. Circumcision was a hurdle in terms of keeping it a secret. People would eventually find out, for example when working out in a gymnasium, so Paul allowed baptism to replace circumcision. "There is no longer slave and free, there is no longer Greek or Jew, there is no longer male and female for all of you are one in Christ". Paul went down to Jerusalem to meet with the religious leaders, where he obtained a rough agreement on converting the gentiles without forcing them to be circumcised. To persuade the leaders, Paul promised to collect money for the church in Jerusalem. After that he returned to Antioch, even as Mark and Peter arrived from Jerusalem, where Peter was having a meal with outsiders. Paul went over to him and publicly reprimanded him for eating unclean food, calling him a hypocrite. Peter’s intransigence made him back down, and Paul left and went to Western Turkey (Asia Minor) and Greece.
In the old days, Jesus was steeped in agriculture, landowners, peasantry. Now things had changed. Paul was steeped in schools, philosophy orators, the city. Christianity ultimately spread from the urban centers. His collaborators spread out to start new congregations throughout the Aegean basin. The early Christian communities were of the proletariat, as well as people like the treasurer of Corinth, Gaius, who had a large home, Stephanus, also, Lydia, the seller of luxury fabric, people representing different social levels. Not the aristocrats, nor the slaves, but middle strata. People who felt they deserved more status than they were getting. Christianity promised that status. The meetings revolved around the table, everyone contributed something, food or prayer or song. Women often owned the houses and were in charge of the proceedings.
Rival preachers tried to take congregations away from Paul and the others. The traditional Jewish beliefs came into conflict with the new religion. There were the radicals and the traditionalists People within the congregation over time started to die of old age, but the Coming hadn't happened. Jewish resistance to Roman rule was growing daily. In Jerusalem, through the
60s mid 60s there is a growing tension over the last governors, who robbed people to line their own pockets. There were bandits and rebels on the roads. The was the rise of the Zealots, who were politically active. Paul returned to Jerusalem with his entourage to lay contributions at the feet of James. But when he arrived he was arrested as a subversive and sent to Rome to stand trial. Peter and Paul both were crucified around 64. James, brother of Jesus was killed at Jerusalem. The first generation of prophets had passed into history. In 66 Jewish resistance broke out into open conflict against Rome.
67-69 The rebels seized Jerusalem. It seemed as if the fiery predictions of the Essenes had come true. Several of the leaders claimed to have a direct connection with God. The Essenes marched out to fight the Romans, but they were annihilated. Josephus, a Jew who defected to the Romans, described the siege of Jerusalem under Vespasian and Titus. For 2 years Jerusalem was under siege. Starvation, disease, murder were the order of the day. The loss of life was catastrophic. The Romans eventually broke through the walls, running through the streets, massacring and burning, drowning the city in blood. Towards evening the slaughter ceased, then the fire took over. The Romans sacked the Temple, then set it on fire. The revolt and its aftermath is the beginning of the split, as each group tried to assess what to do next.
Jewish resistance was not completely snuffed out after the siege of Jerusalem. There was a fortress, built by ancient Kings, called Massadah. The most extreme Zealots and supporters fled from the sack of Jerusalem to Massadah. there were provisions of food and arms there already, it was used as a warehouse. The Roman army surrounded them. According to Josephus, Massadah was impregnable. The Romans made an assault on the fortress but saw only solitude and silence, because the defenders had killed themselves rather than submit to the Romans. Modern archeology has found little evidence of this, but it became a powerful image. Without the Temple, a new culture and a new way of thinking and writing came into being in the shape of the Pharisees, a new sort of Rabbi that created a new Judaism
The followers of Jesus coped by telling stories of the man who would bringing salvation. for 40 years there is no written gospel of Jesus, until after the revolt. The First writer is Paul. In between the death of Jesus and the writing of the first gospel by Mark, stories are being told, not written. Jesus’s parables and miracles, suffering and death, shared stories shaped by a common past, legend and myth and hymn and prayer. The beginning was an oral tradition. Over time the stories were written down. Mark’s was the oldest Gospel in the new testament, written soon after the first revolt. Mark was a healer, exorcist, teacher. He gathered all the disparate stories, many of them translations of Peter’s Aramaic sermons, and wove them together. Mark’s audience read Greek and not Aramaic, he had to explain the Aramaic phrases that Jesus used. The Jewish Christian audience had watched Roman soldiers parading through the streets, bearing plunder stolen from the Temple, and had used coins depicting the defeat. According to Mark, Jesus had predicted that the Temple would be destroyed because it had been desecrated. That was why Jerusalem was destroyed. Jesus emerged as an enigmatic figure. He both revealed and concealed. This was called the "Messianic secret". The suffering and death of Jesus revealed the secret. The prewar image of Jesus as an apocalyptic figure was transformed as God’s persecuted one, the one who has been abandoned, even as the Christian Jews themselves have been. His followers in the 70s were equally persecuted by the Romans, and this gave them comfort. Mark despondently ended with an empty tomb, unlike the other people who wrote the gospels.
75 Matthew and Luke added new parts. This gave greater complexity to Jesus, the apocalyptic one and the philosopher. Mark, Matthew, Luke and John were separated by geography and time. Writing decades apart, their communities developed their own ideas of Jesus, independently of each other. Matthew wrote 15 years after Mark, for a Jewish Christian audience. in the upper Galilee and lower Syria., among hostile Pharisees. Matthew's community felt threatened by the Pharisees, only a few accepted their improbable stories of Christ. For Matthew, Jesus is fully a man of Israel, the son of Abraham. He draws symbols from Jewish tradition, on the mountain talking about "the law" he delivers 5 sermons, like the 5 books of Torah. Jesus is a proponent of Jewish piety just like the Pharisees. Matthew attacks the Pharisees bitterly, calling them "filth". Two Jewish groups coming into open conflict. Judaism is fractured and this leads to the split with Christianity. The Gospels reflect this theological disagreement. Eventually the trauma of the siege of Jerusalem receded. Matthew's account of Jesus’ death is different from Mark's. He has Jesus meet the women, and meet the disciples on the mountaintop.
Luke, a Gentile physician, separated further from Judaism. Luke had been a traveling companion of Paul, and worked in Christian, not Jewish, communities. Luke began with John the Baptist and ended with Acts, which talks about the early Church. Acts was an early romance novel. Anyone from the liberate culture in the Roman world would be impressed by its novelistic and literary qualities. Could Christians be good citizens of the Roman Empire?, they wondered. In Luke's version, Paul was treated kindly by the Roman guards. Luke moved away from Judaism and toward a new self-consciousness of Christians, who were integrated into the Roman political and social arena, moving westward. There was an Egyptian Church, a Syrian Church. Luke is only interested in the Roman Church.
97 From the Aegean island of Atmos., John wrote the Apocalypse, or book of prophecies, pointing to the destruction of Rome.
112 In the Roman province of Bethany, Turkey, Pliny the younger in a letter to Emperor Trajan describes how he had to mete justice out to the Christians. The neighbors had complained that the temples were empty and no one was buying things for the gods. Pliny was hesitant to apply capital punishment, and only did so if the Christians persevered in their faith even after many opportunities to renounce their fath. Pliny did not feel they did anything so bad- they met before daybreak, sang hymns, worshiped Christ and took an oath to not defraud people. Those who denied their faith Pliny allowed to go free. Anonymous charges were a generally ignored. Christians were now separate from Judaism, and had a different relationship to the Romans than the Jews did.
130 The relationship between Christians and Jews had become virulent. By 200 John’s gospel was called the spiritual Gospel, telling the story in symbolic ways. There was no agony in John and there was no garden in Mark. Mark wrote of the agony when Jesus was helpless and terrified as he was captured in the garden. John wrote of the garden where Jesus is calm and in control. In the 3 other Gospels, Jesus eats a Passover meal. In John the last supper is before Passover. The day leading up to Passover is when the lambs are slaughtered, everyone goes to the temple for their lamb to take for cooking. That is the day when Jesus is crucified. Jesus is slaughtered as the lambs are slaughtered. Jesus doesn’t eat a Passover meal. Jesus is the Passover meal. Not an attractive idea to Jews. Throughout the Roman Empire Judaism was evolving. John’s community saw Jesus, not Torah, as the word of God. John and hid followers were expelled from the Synagogue. The invective against Jews got nastier in John, even as Jesus was more spiritual. After the 2nd century, political forces became more hostile
132 Hadrian planned to rebuild the temple in honor of Jupiter. People still expected a cataclysmic event. There arose a new rebellion the Simon Bar-Kochba revolt . He claimed to be the Messiah. a descendant of King David. He took Jerusalem. The Israelites thought they had at last established a new kingdom. The Christians refused to participate and defend their former fellow Jews. The Second revolt's followers were snuffed out, perishing of starvation in caves. Jews and Christians bitterly separated for ever.
135 Bar Kochba had been killed, and the people had been expelled by the order of Emperor Hadrian. Greek peasants had been moved into Palestine and the Jews have been dispersed across the empire in the Diaspora.
Paganism was the rich, indigenous and religious stew of the Empire. Gods and spirits, souls in the stars. The Empire, for reasons of unity, was tolerant of other religions. Magicians, shamans, newer cults from foreign parts were taking over parts of the empire. Among the Egyptian gods, Isis would answer your prayers, as Mary would. She is depicted as holding a baby at her bosom. Mithras gathered in secret chapels, eat sacred meals, and celebrated their god’s birthday on Dec 25. Religious syncretism allowed different cults to become part of either Paganism or Christianity.
The gods of the ancient world looked like the Emperor and his court. Christians, on the other hand, were made in the image of God. Books written in Coptic show secret gospels, of Thomas, of Phillip, of alleged conversations of Jesus and his disciples. The Christianity of Rome was different from that of North Africa, Palestine, or Turkey.
In spite of a certain tolerance, those who refused to sacrifice to the Roman Gods were considered seditious. At great public ceremonials, Christians became conspicuous by their absence. They were unwilling to participate in public ceremonials. (pagan rituals). The pagan perspective was that Christians were fools, to be insulted. Christians were those who brought plague and famine, because they were not doing their duty to the Roman Gods. It became a crime to be Christian. They could chose to recant and sacrifice to the Gods or be sacrificed themselves for their faith. "In the blood of the martyrs lie the seeds of the Church."
Perpetua insisted in being put into the arena. Her father pleaded with her. The governor pleaded with her. Perpetua refused leniency. Other Christians visited her in prison. She was pregnant, and gave birth shortly before she herself was being sent to her death. The prisoners marched to the amphitheater "joyfully, as if they were going to heaven". She faced down the animals and finally after being tormented, a young gladiator was sent to kill her. His hand was trembling so much he could not stab her, and she guided his hand to her own throat. In fact the numbers of martyrs was always small, and these hero stories were didactic devices meant to strengthen the Christian’s resolve in their faith. The death of Perpetua signified an important change in Christianity. It had become a part of Roman culture. The Ecclesia started to develop in some Christian churches. Martyrs, heretics, gnostics all had their schools alongside the papal tradition of St .Peter’s See in Rome. There was also the gospel of Mary Magdalene. She was regarded as a disciple, a leader who claimed that women should be ministers.
165 The Christian apologist Justin is martyred.
170 The Christian Montanus begins his prophecy in Phrygia. Preaching asceticism (stoicism) and martyrdom, Montanus predicts the return of Christ. He fiercely criticizes the Hierarchies of the Roman state and of the Christian church, which he accuses of being in league with them. Montanism is the first Christian heresy.
177 In France as in Rome, death became mass entertainment, demonstrating the power of the Emperor. Convicted criminals were sent to be devoured by wild beasts, including Christians who were accused of cannibalistic orgies and incest. The Christian community in France was tortured and 50-70 people were executed.. The Christians were fragmented. Many were called agents of Satan. Many were stoned and raped, some were strangled in their cells and thrown to wild dogs.
193 Irenaeus started the orthodox movement, calling others heterodox or heretics. Irenaeus wanted people to believe what the bishop wanted them to think. All other gospels other than the Mark, Matthew, Luke and John are gotten rid of. They accepted only what they wanted and rejected what they didn’t want. Orthodoxy demanded the suffering and death of Jesus, because that was the Eucharist. While rejecting some doctrines, Orthodoxy was also an attempt to bring as many Christian communities into one Church.
The gospel of Thomas was written in Syria. Thomas had gathered sayings of Jesus that were not always in the Bible, with emphasis on self-knowledge. Thomas was the founder of Gnosticism, emphasizing the message, the knowledge that Jesus transmitted, rather than his mortal persona. . They believed that Jesus was never human, and therefore could not be crucified.
Christians are buried alongside Jews and pagans. There is growing homogenization. There are scenes from the canonical gospels which are now merging into one single story. There are also Christians attempts to integrate into Greco-Roman society. The shepherd with the sheep is not Christian image, but a Roman idea of philanthropy and love of humanity. The ancient pagan gods lingered, but they were under threat.
Romans did not care what the people believed as long as they perform public duties. Christianity, on the other hand, was intolerant, and became a rival to the society as it got stronger. The message promised spiritual gifts to those who went beyond everyday experience, those who were sincere and really believed and stood for something, which made them feel righteous. Christians also fed the destitute, took care of orphans, and widows. Wealthy Romans had given money for programs before, but the churches began giving social support for their members on a grand scale. Christianity had grown so much that the bureaucracy had grown, and Christian bureraucrats had become indispensable to the Empire
250 Rome felt the control of the empire slipping away. There was a crisis in Rome, they felt besieged by Persians and Germans. Decius decided that Christians had become a serious enemy that had to be dealt with. Christians could be arrested just for being Christian. Anyone could denounce them and confiscate the accused person’s property. One had to have a ticket to show that a sacrifice to the pagan god had been performed, to prove that you were pagan. Tickets were bought and sold, often without the sacrifice, and cynicism became routine. .
260 The Empire was under attack from all quarters. The Sassanid dynasty was determined to regain Asia Minor, Syria and Egypt. Palmyra had fallen, the Franks had invaded Gaul, sweeping into Spain while the Goths and Vandals were attacking Italy and Greece, The Berbers were attacking Roman colonies in Africa. The Roman armies themselves were divided. Much of the empire faced plague and famine.
269 For the first time, ordinary Christians were rounded up. This created a new cult of martyrs,. which strengthened the church in the long run. . Diocletian also tried to wipe out the Christians in public administration, but there were so many, that the society would collapse without them, since there were so many that could read and write. The persecution was too little and too late. There was a great surge of people becoming Christians, in some places they had become the majority.
293 Diocletian, Maximian, Galerius and Constantius have carved up the otherwise ungovernable far-flung Roman empire between them into a tetrarchy. Each was to take over military duties to defend the Empire in Nicomedia, Persia, Africa and the Danube. By dividing the empire, Diocletian had to increase taxes and the bureaucracy had grown. Rather than pay the taxes, many craftsmen fled into the Christian monasteries.
305 Constantine, the Roman general who worshiped Apollo the sun God,, had a vision; a cross had appeared on the sun , with the inscription-"By this, Conquer". He had his soldiers paint crosses on their shields. Constantine won the battle, and relocated to Turkey, a more strategic location. He now gave money generously for the building of churches,. And exempted bishops for things that conflicted with their faith, while raising their salaries astronomically. Bibles were copied at public expense. The Church had become part of the imperial establishment. Jerusalem was rebuilt by Constantine. The new Holy places were no longer Jewish, but Christian. Constantine began to persecute Christians who were not papal. He called the great gathering of Bishops at the Edict of Milan to do away with persecution and restore confiscated property. The kingdom of God and the Roman empire became one and the same. Jesus of Nazareth had become Jesus Christ. A new chapter in history was about to begin.

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